Climate informed Farmer Field Schools in Eastern Africa: The Agricultural Climate Resilience Enhancement Initiative (ACREI)

Climate informed Farmer Field Schools in Eastern Africa: The Agricultural Climate Resilience Enhancement Initiative (ACREI)

Authors: Abedih Mbatha (FAO Kenya), Andrew Atingi (FAO Uganda), Aresawum Mengesha (FAO Ethiopia), Deborah Duveskog (FAO RTEA), Oliver Kipkogei (ICPAC), Sebastian Grey (WMO)

A farmer from Mbulia Group learning site harvesting green/red grams from one of the study plots

A farmer from Mbulia Group learning site harvesting green / red grams from one of the study plots

A Farmer Field School (FFS) brings together a group of farmers to learn how to shift towards more sustainable production practices, better understand complex agro-ecosystems, and enhance ecosystem services. The FFS approach promotes field-based experimentation and decision-making through discovery-based learning. Although FFS were introduced in East Africa in the late 1990s, at the time, climate change and variability were not key elements of the learning curriculum. These are now being addressed by the Agricultural Climate Resilience Enhancement Initiative (ACREI).

ACREI – a partnership programme between the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Center (ICPAC) – is funded by the Adaptation Fund. Under the ACREI project, FAO is supporting 60 FFS groups across 30 communities in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda to enhance their knowledge on climate change adaptation, while better integrating climate information into their agricultural decision-making. Each FFS group has a learning site for weekly meetings during the production cycle. They have set up climate resilience field experiments to investigate, among others, drought resistant plant varieties, and land and water conservation practices.

ACREI focuses on the inclusion of climate information into FFS learning agendas. This is done through participatory scenario planning workshops held at the start of each season. At these workshops, climate scientists, intermediaries and end users discuss the seasonal forecast and agree on weather and climate advisories – a process known as coproduction. This approach strengthens the collective interpretation, ownership and practical application of seasonal advisories and climate forecasts. The advisories are translated into local languages – Kiswahili in Kenya, Oromifa in Ethiopia, and Luganda, Runyankore and Runyarwanda in Uganda – further ensuring that they are understandable and actionable.

In all three countries, different experiences and lessons are emerging from the climate informed FFS groups. In Kenya, the Mbulia FFS group in Voi Sub-county of Taita Taveta County has assessed the performance of green grams under different land management practices. The group further expanded their study plots to include pigeon peas, ground nuts, lablab and sorghum as other high value drought tolerant crops. Their learning included assessment of the crops performance under minimum tillage and mulching as well as application of different fertilizer regimes. The group’s learning is enabled by FAO trained facilitators, who, through farmer led studies, observation and analysis have helped the group understand how agricultural production can be improved despite erratic climate conditions. This learning, with further financial and technical support, will be used by farmers in their own fields to improve their livelihoods and food security. Mbulia FFS is one of 22 FFS groups established under the ACREI project in climate-vulnerable communities of Taita Taveta County.

Regional FFS Case Study

Low-cost rain gauges being received by farmer field school facilitators in Isingiro District, Uganda (top left). Members of the Gari Iffebas FFS group in Kersa Woreda, East Hararghe Zone, Ethiopia harvesting potatoes from their learning plot (top right)

In the Isingiro and Ssembabule Districts of Uganda, FAO is supporting 20 FFS groups to better integrate climate information and climate resilience into their agricultural production. ”Our community sent a farmer representative and a sub county extension worker to join other colleagues at the district headquarters to discuss the forecast for the October-November-December (2020) rainfall season,” said Kayondo Patrick, a member of Tangiriza FFS group in Sembabule District. “We learnt that the season would be favourable for maize and beans and invested in these crops.” With uncertainty over the quantity and timing of the rainfall season, FFS group members were more cautious and focused on the health of livestock. The participation of farmer and extension representatives in the seasonal advisory development process held by ICPAC and the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) ensured that the advisories were adopted. The farmers reap benefits through improved incomes from crop sales. Similar seasonal advisory workshops are held in Kenya and Ethiopia by the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) and Ethiopia National Meteorological Agency (NMA) respectively, with ICPAC support. The FFS groups provide an ideal platform for integration of climate information into smallholder agriculture, ensuring that the information is tailored to the local context and actual experiences.

Climate Change Adaptation Guide for farmer Field Schools

The ACREI produced Climate Change Adaptation Guide for farmer Field Schools

In Kersa Woreda, East Hararghe Zone of the Oromia Region of Ethiopia, the Gari Iffebas FFS group meets weekly to monitor progress on their potato trial plot. The group was interested in understanding which of the available potato varieties (which include Tullema, Gudena and Chiro) would perform best under their agroecological and climatic conditions. With support from FAO, an extension worker has been guiding the group through the experiential learning process, focusing on critically observing and documenting the different potato varieties at each stage of growth. The group is applying Agro Ecosystem Analysis (AESA) to make observations on crop performance and the ecosystem, including observing weather parameters, with the goal of learning to make informed investment and crop management decisions. A knock-on effect of FFS learning has been the establishment of potato seed multiplication, for sale to other households in the community. Thus far, the group has harvested five tons of seed potato from their plot. They have formally registered as a seed multiplication cooperative and opened a bank account in hope of expanding their operations and making a sustainable income from seed potato production. An agreement with Haremaya University will enable sustainable access to potato seed planting materials for the group.

Partnership with other organizations and projects have bolstered the FFS learning under ACREI. In Kenya, seed provided by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) were used in FFS learning activities. Partnerships with media in all three countries through a seasonal media action plan (S-MAP), an ICPAC created methodology for media involvement on dissemination of climate and weather information, have resulted in a significant increase in reports related to weather and climate in agriculture. Media have not only supported climate information dissemination but have also become a key channel for farmers to provide feedback on the information they receive and how it impacts their production.A “Climate Change Adaptation Guide for Farmer Field Schools” has also been developed to support extension workers. The guide describes learning activities and season-long trial options that FFS groups can undertake to better integrate climate resilience practices. The introductory chapter focuses on community-based processes for understanding climate risk and climate resilience, while subsequent chapters present thematic learning exercises for understanding climate risk and resilience in different crop, livestock and natural resources management activities. The guide was developed in partnership with the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) with input from over 30 FFS practitioners. It is currently undergoing field testing in ACREI locations.

Evidence from the learning activities show that the FFS approach in the ACREI project:

  • enhances knowledge and capacity on climate information and climate resilience;
  • strengthens farmer-based institutions, such as groups and cooperatives;
  • enhances partnership among institutions working on climate resilience;
  • creates a platform for dialogue on climate change adaptation practices;
  • encourages adoption of new climate change adaptation practices;
  • strengthens social cohesion among community members; and
  • fosters ownership and sustainability of climate change adaptation initiatives.

Regional FFS Case Study Logos